Acton Institute Powerblog

Sacred Selling

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I have been thinking a lot about the way we sell church-related goods and services.


I have been thinking about that and about Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers and sacrificial animal sellers in the temple.

The marketing inside the church has probably never been more feverish than it is today. Hollywood hires savvy Christian marketers to try to gin up interest in certain films among our demographic. We trademark little phrases for sale to Christians. I recently heard an acquaintance excitedly describe a system for integrating Prayer and Your Priorities. I shall not share the catchy name for this system so as to avoid smearing the person working on it. This results in a marketing platform for an inspirational book, a devotional, a daily planner for the system, calendars, sticky notes, etc. I imagine it will prove attractive for some Christian publishing house.

My question, though, is whether this is a wholesome thing for the church. As the author of a book, though not a super consumer-oriented one, I think about it all the time. For example, if called upon to preach at a local church, should I take along a box of books to sell at the end of the service? Should I even mention the book? Should I ask whoever introduces me to mention the book? Should we sell ANYTHING in the church?

The question is not as easy as it may appear. For example, the market instincts of new publishers spread Martin Luther’s work to a large audience. Without the printing press, Luther probably would have died as just another dissenter. Marketing and the honest profit motive are surely reasons why the Bible is as incredibly widely available as it is.

But the question remains. How far do we go in making a profit from the gospel of Jesus Christ? I don’t have a good answer.

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. serves as contributing editor to The City and to Salvo Magazine. In addition, he has written for The American Spectator, American Outlook, National Review Online, Christianity Today, Human, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and a number of other outlets. His scholarly work has appeared in the Journal of Law and Religion (“Competing Orthodoxies in the Public Square: Postmodernism’s Effect on Church-State Separation”), the Regent University Law Review (“Storming the Gates of a Massive Cultural Investment: Reconsidering Roe in Light of its Flawed Foundation and Undesirable Consequences”), and the Journal of Church and State. In 2007, he contributed a chapter “The Struggle for Baylor’s Soul” to the edited collection The Baylor Project, published by St. Augustine’s Press. He has also been a guest on a variety of television and radio programs, including Prime Time America and Kresta in the Afternoon. As a law student in the late 1990s, Hunter Baker worked for The Rutherford Institute and Prison Fellowship Ministries where he focused primarily on defending the constitutional principle of religious liberty. Prior to beginning doctoral studies in religion and politics at Baylor University in 2003, he served as director of public policy for the Georgia Family Council. While at Baylor, Baker served as a graduate assistant to the philosopher Francis Beckwith and the historian Barry Hankins. He assisted Beckwith in the editing of his landmark book Defending Life which has now been published by Cambridge University Press. He also provided research assistance to Hankins in his forthcoming biography of Francis Schaeffer. Baker currently serves on the political science faculty at Union University and is an associate dean in the college of arts and sciences. He is married to Ruth Elaine Baker, M.D. They have a son, Andrew, and a daughter, Grace.


  • Patrick

    I am surprised at the narrow channels for the marketing of religious materials. I happen to be an acquaintance of Olivia Hussey, who starred in film biography of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In talking with the family, I found that the marketing would be principally through religious stores and other Christian outlets. Considering the popularity of the Saint, I had assumed that the movie would have found its way into the more secular market place. The movie is available on Amazon.

    There is a great deal of Christian culture pressed into a very narrow channel and never really made an option to the general public. Still there was no mention of the movie in the parish bulletin, even though Olivia lives within parish limits.

    No doubt there are other anecdotal stories on marketing to Christians, but I believe it is still a underdeveloped market.

  • It’s a good question and broader than that. So much of what is done in church today is done on a business model. In the Catholic Church, some priests and bishops consider themselves managers, I suspect many turn to trade publications for the same. What was once charity for the church has been transformed into fundraising, with the church being just another nonprofit. Marketing is just a fancy word for advertising, and there are two types of advertising. One is informational — I have this product, it has these features, if you want it this is how you can get it. You see very little of this advertising anymore, except perhaps the times on store doors saying when they are open. The other is persuasive, trying to convince people that they need your product. If Christians can stick to the first, I think we’re largely clear, although there are many other obvious factors such as whether a box of books sold at the back of the church becomes a distraction from the purpose of the service or an addition to it. But much of what is out there, targeting demographics and etc., is about persuading — and some of it is of the worst sort — “You are our type of people, not like those other type of people, and you can prove it to yourself and others by buying a lot of stuff with our brand on it — Jesus.”